When Luis Suarez departed Liverpool for Barcelona in the summer, it was a fairly safe bet that the Reds would suffer as a result. After all, the Uruguayan is one of the best players in the world, and his performance during last year’s Premier League season was one of the fundamental factors behind Liverpool’s fantastic form.
When Suarez left, there was always going to be a big gap to fill, and it was always unlikely that the void would be adequately filled; at least not immediately.
But as Brendan Rodgers’ side continue to put in under-par performances, serious question marks are beginning to be asked of the player that was principally charged with picking up the mantle where Suarez had left it.
Rodgers bought a lot of players in the summer, but there was only really one signing seen as a like-for-like replacement – and that was, of course, Mario Balotelli.
If we’re honest, it was always going to be a gamble signing someone as unpredictable as Balotelli, but on the evidence of the matches the Italian has played so far, it’s a gamble that has failed to deliver a desirable return.
In his first performance for Liverpool against Tottenham about six weeks ago, Balotelli looked rusty, but nonetheless industrious. Against QPR on Sunday, all such industry had completely disappeared, with the Italian looking lazy, disinterested and, to be frank, mediocre.
It was a touch of fortune that brought the Reds a much-needed win, but serious questions must be asked of a striker that failed to exploit an abysmal QPR defence. Liverpool were highly fortunate that Richard Dunne and Steven Caulker combined to score the goals that they weren’t capable of; but against better teams, a performance like this would not have been rewarded with anything other than a loss and a long trip back to Liverpool.
Balotelli has now had 30 shots since his last Premier League goal, and has failed to net in his eight league games for Liverpool so far. One might forgive this poor record of a striker unaccustomed to the hustle and bustle of the Premier League; for a seasoned striker who has already won one more Premier League title than the rest of the Liverpool squad put together, it’s extremely concerning.
Perhaps the most worrying part of Balotelli’s mediocre displays is his level of effort, which seems minimal at best. The Italian seems to float through games, not trying his hardest, not getting stuck in. Whatever you might think about Suarez, one thing is absolutely irrefutable – the man does everything he can for whatever team he is playing for; and it was this tenacity that made Liverpool such an impressive team last term.
Suarez was the perfect player to enforce Rodgers’ pressing game because of his energy and work-rate; but on the evidence of Balotelli’s performances so far, the Italian simply doesn’t have the potential to put in anything like the same work-rate. If he had the same talent as a Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, one could perhaps understand this lackadaisical attitude, but for a player who is considered to be a serious downgrade on Luis Suarez, one might expect more effort.
When Balotelli arrived, there were plenty questioning Rodgers’ judgement, while others were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Unless Balotelli gets his act together soon, any doubt will soon be removed; and if the Italian continues to turn in performances of this calibre, a top-four place – let alone a title challenge – looks a slim possibility for a side that relied last year on a marauding and energetic striker.